Saturday, September 28, 2013

Federal judge in Idaho sides with Nez Perce to stop transport of tar sands equipment

The New York Times reported yesterday on the decision by federal district judge B. Lynn Winmill to prohibit the transport of "megaloads" of extraction industry equipment through the tribal lands of the Nez Perce Indians in north central Idaho.  The equipment would pass through the area en route to tar sands extraction and processing sites in Canada.  The tribe's argument, with support from Idaho Rivers United, is that the Clearwater River there is protected by federal law and by old, essentially untested treaty rights of the Nez Perce, even though much of the river corridor is outside the reservation.  Judge Winmill's ruling "halted further transports until the tribe, working in consultation with the United States Forest Service, could study their potential effect on the environment and the tribe’s culture."

Kirk Johnson's report on these events for the NYT appeared under the headline, "Fight Over Energy Finds a New Front in a Corner of Idaho."  The dateline is Lapwai, Idaho, population 1,137, and the seat of Nez Perce governance.  Here's an excerpt:
The Nez Perce Indians, who have called these empty spaces and rushing rivers home for thousands of years, were drawn into the national brawl over the future of energy last month when they tried to stop a giant load of oil-processing equipment from coming through their lands.  
* * * 
When the hauler’s giant load arrived one night in early August, more than 200 feet long and escorted by the police under glaring lights, the tribe tried to halt the vehicle, with leaders and tribe members barricading the road, willingly facing arrest. 
In fact, 28 members of the tribe were arrested.  In defending their actions, the chairman of the tribal executive committee, Silas Whitman, explained:
The development of American corporate society has always been — and it’s true throughout the world — on the backs of those who are oppressed, repressed or depressed.  We couldn’t turn the cheek anymore.  
Meanwhile, Johnson reports, the tribe is galvanized by their solidarity, even as they have taken some legal risks. 
Staking a legal case on treaty rights, though victorious so far in Judge Winmill’s court, means taking the chance, tribal leaders said, that a higher court, perhaps in appeal of the judge’s decision, will find those rights even more limited than before.
Johnson's story makes the point that the impacts of extractive industries are no longer seen as purely local.  It is no longer the case, he writes, that "what happens in oil country, stays in oil country."  

Don't miss the very striking photos/slide show accompanying this story. Here's a Sept. 13 story about the judge's ruling.  

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